Don’t be the Uber of Values

Don't be the Uber of values

It’s easy to hate on Uber. It gets too much airtime. Every entrepreneur is clambering to be the “Uber” of something.

Plus, there’s the enfant terrible persona of its recently-disgraced-and-eventually-departed CEO Travis Kalanick, whose rise and fall is extremely well-documented.

But beyond the schadenfreude, there’s a take-home amid the rubble of Uber’s public implosions. A recent Bloomberg column about the company that began by examining a potential tender offer turned into a good lesson:

“There is I think a disconnect between how corporate human resources officers think of values and how humans think of values. Companies often think of values as a set of marketing words that can be chosen freely by senior management and then put on a numbered list, which then become ‘the values.’ I, at least, think of a person’s or organization’s ‘values’ as deeply ingrained half-unconscious motivating beliefs that are revealed in actions. A new chief executive officer might be able to change a company’s values, but slowly, gradually, with great effort, by setting a good example and also probably by firing a lot of people with the bad old values and hiring people with the good new ones. If your company has a lot of sexual harassment, then one of its values is implicitly ‘we are cool with sexual harassment,’ even if that doesn’t appear on any HR-approved list. And you cannot change that by putting out a list that says ‘we are not cool with sexual harassment.’ Once you get rid of the sexual harassment, you can say that, sure. But ultimately the values are facts, not descriptions.”

Values are real, even if, for many organizations, the stated values live only on the website and maybe in a frame at the corporate office where no one ever thinks of them. At best, corporate values are often beyond aspirational. At worst, they feel like a mockery of reality.

You be the judge:  McDonald’s values “good food” and “good sourcing.” Starbucks supposedly lives the value of “being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.” Facebook “builds social value.” Nike eschews values for MAXIMS like “Do the Right Thing.”

Companies don’t ground their values in the truth enough – in general, and certainly in healthcare. Often, the foundation of our work at Jarrard Inc. involves a lot of listening to physicians, nurses and employees. And you might be surprised to learn that employees are generally very well-versed in the hospital’s stated mission and values. But, all too frequently, they cite them to illustrate a perceived gulf between those values and reality.

For example, if your values say that your employees come first, but layoffs are the go-to strategy every time the budget gets tight, then your story falls flat. If your values say you prioritize patients but your quality scores are low, you aren’t being honest.

What are your values? Do they match those “half-unconscious motivating beliefs?” Are they the ones known and demonstrated throughout your organization? Values are facts. It is worth your while to do some listening and make sure yours are saying what you want them to say.


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